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Mutual Understanding

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Part of him feels betrayed. 

Deep down, Will knows it’s probably his fault. After all, he's the one who changed his carefully planned, grand confession speech to be about El, and it would be presumptuous to just assume Mike would figure out he had been talking about his own feelings, especially when he had been so wrapped up with El and their fight.

But he had just hoped that he would have anyways. 

Honestly, he almost expected it. Which felt silly in retrospect, but he really thought that he’d been vulnerable enough to ensure that there couldn't be any possible way that Mike ‘I can always tell when something’s up with you’ Wheeler wouldn’t have just known .

But he didn’t. 

And now, he won't.

Will lets out a frustrated groan, kicking the pile of sticks that used to be Castle Byers. 

He shouldn’t be mad. This is what he’d been working towards, right? He wanted Mike to be happy and he wanted El to be happy. And they were . They are. After everything, Mike had finally been able to tell El that he loved her. And, well, at least after the last second change he’d made, that’s what the point of his whole spiel had been. Without it, Will was sure they’d be in a significantly worse position than the one they’re in now. Vecna might be more than just the constant nausea in his stomach and El… 

He doesn’t let himself even consider that. 

The sound of twigs snapping cuts through the silence of Will’s solitude and his head jerks up involuntarily. 

Adrenaline now coursing through him, Will lets out a shaking breath and ignores the tears that immediately spring in his eyes. They might be from frustration, or maybe exhaustion, he doesn’t know right now. He doesn’t really feel compelled to care, either. Instead, he rubs harshly at them with the balls of his palms, sniffs until he feels adequately cleaned up, and greets the intruder with a brave and watery smile. 

“Hey, Mike.” 

His chest feels tight as Mike doesn’t answer, barely giving him a look of acknowledgement as he stalks past where Will is standing to lower himself onto one of the old, beat up lawn chairs that had somehow made it through the years of neglect. He shifts uncomfortably for a moment of two, before falling still. He doesn’t speak. 

Cautiously, Will lets himself into the chair across from his friend, the tired plastic groaning under his weight. Swallowing hard, he watches, and he waits. 

He can recall a few times from his earlier childhood that Mike had done this exact thing. In fact, back when they were in grade school, quite often Mike would find Will doing something on his own, drawing, usually, and just sit with him, waiting patiently for Will to look up with a smile and ask what it was he wanted. Usually, Will would invite Mike to share whatever it was he wanted to say the minute he walked into the same room as him. But there were times when the two would sit together in silence for even hours, hyper aware of each other's presence, not saying a word.

Will knows Mike wants to say something, so he sits and watches, a physical invitation for him to share his thoughts. 

He opens his mouth a few times, sucking in a breath as if he’s finally decided on the words he wants to say, before promptly closing it again, a considered frown creasing his eyebrows, dark eyes refusing to meet Will’s patient and understanding gaze. 

Then, finally, he talks.

“You lied to me.” He says simply, his tone plain and indecipherable. 

The tightness in his chest squeezes hard against his lungs and Will struggles to breathe for a moment, an involuntary gasp escaping him as his mind, racing for any sort of reassurance, whirs into overdrive. 

“Wh-what?” He manages, feeling wildly out of breath. 

Mike swallows, hesitantly raising his gaze until he meets Will’s again, and suddenly the tears from earlier are back, gathering in his eyes, hot and wet, blurring the perfect vision of Mike in front of him, an unreadable yet solemn face just looking back at him. 

Mike sighs, glancing over to a distant tree, he presumes, before finding Will again. 

“El, she…” Mike shakes his head and Will thinks his heart is going to give out, “She didn’t know about that painting. She, uh, she told me.” 

The air he had been trying desperately to inhale is knocked from his lungs. 

Mike was right. He had lied. 

And Will wonders, if maybe Mike figured out what he had been saying to him in the van those days ago. And if maybe this was somehow worse than simply staying hidden. 

After Will makes no attempt to further explain himself, Mike leans forward, casting his eyes to somewhere near Will’s sneakers, bearing his weight on his spread out knees through his elbows. 

“Well, she knew about the painting,” he says, shrugging a little, if only as a nervous tick, “I mean, she told me about that in one of her letters.”

Will looks up, “She did?”

Mike nods, “yeah,” he swallows again, his throat sounding dry as his lips make an unpleasant popping sound as he opens them again, sticky from the lack of moisture, “she thought you might have been making it for, uh, some… some girl. ” 

Guilt twists up through Will, shooting right through his stomach and into his chest. He wants to throw up. 

“Oh.” Is all he can manage.

Mike is nodding again, licking his lips uncomfortably. 

“So,” Will thinks he sees him wince momentarily, “she didn’t tell you to paint it, then?”

Will shakes his head dumbly. “No, I- She… she didn’t.”

Mike’s eyes grow wide for a moment, like he doesn’t believe it. But it's fast, and before Will is even sure he sees it at all, the expression fades into something else and it looks like Mike might push for an answer, ask why he had lied in the first place. 

But he doesn't.

Instead, they both sit in silence, just looking at each other, dark brown against hazel, breathing shallow and unsure. Will can feel his face burning as he fights to get any kind of read on what Mike is thinking. 

He doesn’t seem mad, he assures himself. And he can always tell when Mike’s mad. Mostly due to the fact that he’s never been good at hiding it. 

But again, Mike was never good at hiding any of his emotions - not from Will, at least. He’d always been so honest, so sure of himself. 

Seeing him stare so blankly at him… it feels almost accusatory. He feels naked, like Mike has the upper hand, seeing directly into his mind, whilst Will is left entirely in the dark.

Then, something akin to understanding washes over his features, followed by hurt, then settling back to blank.

“I’m… I’m sorry for misunderstanding you- in-in the car, I mean, back in California.” he says earnestly.

Will takes a shaky breath.

“There wasn’t anything to misunderstand.” He hates how his voice gives way so easily, emotion sweltering through his words as he tries desperately to remain as neutral as Mike is. 

When it comes to Mike, he supposes, he’s pretty much a lost cause.

“Will,” his voice is so steady, so certain , it makes Will want to die, “we both know that’s not true.” 

“You love El.” He finds himself saying - spitting - despite his better judgement. Some cruel bitter part of him wants Mike to know, even if it means the end of everything, and somehow, in that moment, that part of him overpowers his common sense, heaving him open and leaving him raw and vulnerable in front of his best friend. The tears spill from his eyes as he continues.

“You love El and you needed to know how much she loves you. This… This?” He gestures wildly with his hands, barely even sure what he’s trying to convey through his flurry of emotions, “this isn’t about me. This is about you and El . And, hell, without how much you two love each other, Max might not even have the chance she has now! It’s not fair on everyone else if I decide to make this me and my feelings! Now isn’t the time for some stupid crush, Mike!” His eyes are burning and his throat is growing coarse, still, he pushes forward. 

“So, yeah, maybe I lied about a stupid painting and maybe I- I projected onto El a little bit back in california- but her feelings for you- they’re not a lie, Mike. She loves you. She loves you more than anything and she deserves to know that you love her too.” 

His shoulders shake and the sound of his silent sobs are the only thing that can be heard. 

“You matter, Will.”

Will can’t bring himself to lift his head from his hands, tears still streaming down his face, the salty taste overwhelming his tongue as they seep unpleasantly into his mouth. 

“I… I care .” Mike’s voice is so quiet and tender, it’s barely recognisable as him in contrast to his usual bold and steadfast nature. Will can’t decide if he likes it. 

“I care about you, and about your feelings…” 

Will can’t bring himself to look. He just can’t.

“I know you do, Mike.” He laughs dryly, swiping at his hot, damp face, if only to distract himself from everything for a moment. 

“I love El.” Mike says, standing from his seat, “I do, and you’re right.”

Anger sparks in Will’s chest, his eyes finding Mikes, open and sincere. 

“But you know what?” He takes a step forward, “I also love Nancy, and I love Lucas and Dustin, I love Max, and I love your mom and my mom and Steve and even Hopper, and… ” 

His even demeanour finally starts to crack, his voice steadily dripping with some kind of emotion Will can’t quite place as he continues towards him, speaking through a small, sad looking smile. 

Will feels stuck in his plastic lawn chair.

He watches, still and lifeless as Mike leans over him, his entire body faltering before he shakes his head and looks Will dead in the eyes.

“-and I love you, Will.”

Something inside him shatters and without warning, Will is crying again. 

He almost feels happy - relieved, even. 

This was what he was looking for, right? To just be seen? To be heard? It didn’t matter how Mike felt about him, as long as he knew he actually cared, that would be enough, right?

But over all the almost feelings, Will finds himself feeling hollow. Empty. 

Because Mike just doesn’t get it. Maybe he never will. He’s not different like Will is. 

And he’d thought that he’d be okay. That just being like this… that it would be enough. 

Shaking his head, Will rises from his seat, pushing past Mike in a desperate attempt to escape the suffocation pricking at his lungs. 

“Will, where are you-”

“You just don’t understand!” Will cries, his voice sounding more broken than he’d ever heard it before. It hurt. Everything, all of it. It hurt. “You can’t understand.” He chokes.

Mike only stares at him, mouth gently agape, eyebrows high on his forehead, breath baited as Will heaves another. 

“Look, Mike, I get it. You feel bad for me. You don’t have to apologise, I’m not mad.” He wills himself not to cry anymore, and somehow, through some miracle, he doesn’t. “But don’t you dare pretend you get it.”

“Pretend I get what ?”

And that’s it, at that, Will flies into a blind rage, whirling around so hard he’s pretty sure he pulled something in his neck, not that he even notices, storming up to a very stunned Mike, white noise ringing in his ears.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through, Mike! The names- the bullying- you don’t know the half of it!”

He can see Mike starting to interject, but he speeds on, pushing right past whatever it was he was going to say.

“Yeah, sure, we were all beat up. It wasn’t just me, I know that. But for me, it was real. I am different! I’m a freak! They’re right and that’s why it hurts so much worse!” The words are bubbling out of him faster than he can even think, “you’re right, okay? El’s right- what I said in the car, that was from me. I need you, Mike, I’m so lost without you I-I love you! Shit, you’re- you don’t even know , Mike, I love you so much it hurts. And I know it’s weird and wrong- and I know you’ll never feel the same way and that’s why-” he takes a breath, a heavy weariness settling over him as the adrenaline fades.

“-that’s why I lied. I’m so scared of losing you, Mike.” He can’t hold eye contact any longer, dropping his head down to stare at Mike’s untied shoelaces instead. “So, if that’s what it takes, ignoring my own feelings, being ignored,” he chuckles bitterly, “at this point, I’ll take what I can get… just…” he sighs, arms hanging limply at his side, “just let me take what I can get.”

Surprisingly, he manages to steel himself, refusing to let another tear fall, despite how badly they’re burning in his eyes. But he’s only holding on by a single thread, and it's fraying. Fast. 

“Will…”

“No, Mike, it’s fine, I’m fine, I-”  

Before Will can even finish thinking about his next words, Mike moves forwards and silently wraps his arms around him. And Will lets himself hang on for dear life, pressing himself further into Mike’s chest without hesitation, his hands reaching up to grip the fabric of his dusty blue windbreaker, and he’s sure he’s clutching it so hard it’s probably creased. 

“I should have done this back at the airport.” There’s humour in Mike’s voice, but Will is also sure he can hear an underlying pang of emotion- maybe sadness, maybe fear, he’s not certain.

Will shakes his head, but doesn’t dare move away, “You didn’t have to-”

“No, Will, I-” Mike pulls away and Will immediately misses the warmth, “I’m serious. Look, the truth is…” His brown eyes are wide and thinking as he flicks them away for a beat, hands coming to clench at Will’s shoulders, “the truth is, I was avoiding you. I wasn’t calling or sending letters because- because…” 

Will can only stare in bewilderment as Mike grapples with his words, a firm mixture of anxiety and hope twirling in his gut. 

A familiar flash of determination sparks in Mike’s eyes as he lifts his gaze to meet Will’s once again. “I was scared.

“Wh-”

“El is safe. Familiar.” Mike cuts him off without a thought, and Will presumes it might be so he doesn’t lose his nerve, “But you…”

The worry gnawing at the pit of his stomach grows stronger, but Will keeps his jaw clenched, letting Mike continue.

“I love Dustin and Lucas and Max and-”

“-and me.” Will finishes quietly.

“And El. ” Mike corrects and Will can’t help the short gasp he lets out when he does.

“What are you-?”

Sighing, Mike drops his head onto Will’s shoulder, “I love El. I love her differently than I love the rest of the party,” He explains, fingers slipping lazily down to grasp instead at Will’s biceps, “but it’s not-” He leans further into Will, “I’m not in love with her.”

He pushes off Will’s arm and meets his gaze with searching eyes.

Will barely manages a strangled “oh.” in return, which earns a light chuckle from Mike.

“I kinda started to realise it on our way back to Hawkins, after- after her fight with Vecna,” He lets go of Will entirely now, running a nervous hand through his unbrushed curls, “but I think she probably figured it out before me.” He smiles softly, “She’s smart like that.”

A light spring breeze rustles the leaves above them, sending a chill down Will’s spine. He isn’t quite sure what to say. But here he is, Mike Wheeler, finally opening up, like they did when they were younger. Or maybe, maybe this was different. Will won’t let himself get his hopes up, but, there’s definitely something new about Mike, like he’s learnt something about himself that he hasn’t shared with anyone else yet. Or maybe it’s just the way his features are sharper, his freckles darker with their time in the sun, his hair long and unkempt. Whatever it is, it leaves him looking older, more mature. 

“The truth is, I was scared of how I felt about you.”

Mike sucks in a breath and reaches out, his fingers icy against Will’s red, flushed cheek, barely grazing as if to ask permission to touch him like this. Will has to fight the knee-jerk reaction to pull away from Mike, but he forces himself to hold his ground, instead giving him a small, sure nod.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see you, Will.”

His breath catches as Mike’s free hand moves to Will’s forearm, again, slow and cautious.

And they spend a moment like that, standing in the ruins of Castle Byers, the light air of spring nudging at their now equally wet faces, silent, just looking, just being. Will feels, as Mike inches ever so slightly toward him, that there’s a sort of mutual understanding between them, a voiceless acknowledgment that is somehow the loudest exclamation he’s ever heard. 

His heart stutters, and even as Mike stands, hand still cupping his cheek, face a mere inch from his own, he won’t let himself believe. He’s waiting for the drop, for one blink to rip apart what he’s seeing before him, for all this to be some sick vision, maybe even Vecna. 

But then Mike’s lips are on his and it doesn’t even matter anymore. 

His eyes flutter closed and all his mind can think of is Mike Wheeler, here, kissing him- kissing him. 

It’s nothing more than a press of their lips at first, but then Mike moves his mouth against Will’s and he melts, unable to even start to feel embarrassed at the small moan he lets out in response. Mike brings both his hands to Will’s face, then down to his neck, cradling him, angling his head just so he can kiss him deeper. Will pulls his arms upwards and tangles his fingers into Mike’s hair, desperately trying to bring him closer, push into him further. 

Mike pulls away first, eyes bright and round, face flush and lips only just hinting at a deeper shade of red than usual. 

“Wow.” He breathes, and Will can only nod in agreement.

“Is this… Is this real?” Will asks after a beat, his hands wandering across Mike’s cheeks, his thumb gently pressing at his lower lip, as if to check he really is standing there.

Mike chuckles, his smile lingering as he presses his forehead to Will’s. 

“Will Byers, you are the most selfless and kind person I know. You are just so… so good.” He sighs, almost dreamily, and all of a sudden Will feels a heavy blush crawling up his neck, “You deserve happiness Will… You’re not a mistake. You’re not.”

“I don’t even know what to say, Mike, I-” He sniffles unceremoniously, which then turns into a tearful laugh.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Mike smiles, a mischievous glint playing in his eyes, “You can kiss me again, though.”

And so Will does. He pulls Mike close like he’s wanted to for years, leaning into the familiar warmth of his best friend’s embrace, letting himself fall entirely into him, into Mike. And there’s an entirely new thrill of ecstasy when Mike pushes back just as hard, if not harder, sending him stumbling back into the rickety lawn chair, Mike wasting no time in pulling himself up onto Will’s lap and kissing him again. Will gasps into Mike as he swipes his tongue hungrily at his bottom lip. 

He lets Mike press his tongue excitedly against his own, his own mouth moving eagerly against it, the feeling strange and new but oh so wonderful. A heavy but pleasant warmth blooms deep in his stomach as Mike makes a small whining noise, hands planted firmly on his shoulders as he leans his body almost entirely onto Will. In a spur of the moment, Will moves up and bites at Mike’s lip, earning another sound from Mike that sent tingles through his body.

He never wants this to end. 

But then Will is giggling, lips pulling away from Mike’s in a bright smile that he simply cannot hold back. And then, Mike starts laughing too, shoulders bouncing as the two just laugh with each other, Mike perched on Will’s lap, arms around each other, the wobbly lawn chair beneath them giving them cautionary creaks as the flimsy plastic threatens to give way at any moment. 

They finally calm down, coming to smile fondly at one another, soft and sweet and in love and Will wonders how he hadn’t seen it before. 

“It’s so easy to say to you,” Mike says, leaning over in preparation to resume their impromptu makeout session.

Will barely hears him over the sound of his pulse thudding in his ears, and he barely remembers to reply as his eyes flick from Mike’s eyes and back down to his swollen lips. 

“Say what?”

Mike presses a kiss to Will’s lips before pulling away again, just enough to whisper a quiet, “I love you.” into his mouth.